Common fantasy trope is, that members of one fantasy group hate members of different group. For example: Elves hate dwarves. But in most fantasy setups, it is never shown that dwarves would hate another members from same group.

For scope of this question, lets define terms:

  • Racism: A belief that quality of different member of a society can be determined by color of the skin of such member. Also a belief, that basically says: "My skin color is the best"
  • Shapism: A belief that member of one group has different qualities than member of another group. Simply put: "Mine race is the best."

Now imagine that I would like to have "fantasy people of colour," in meaning that any fantasy race can have members of different skin colors.

So, how can you form a mindset where you do not see the skin color, but see "shape" of that person?

For basic setup, assume classic fantasy world, no magic. Assume a place where all races meet, and all skin colors are present (A city which is used mainly for trade)

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Maybe i misunderstood, but i.r.l. people might already not be racist at and discriminate someone on his/her social origin, which is way more subtle to read than shape (wearing, accent, way of behaving) $\endgroup$ – GameAlchemist Dec 25 '15 at 18:57
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ The trope Fantastic Racism might be useful to people attempting an answer. $\endgroup$ – Damian Yerrick Dec 25 '15 at 19:05
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ You may want to add an edit that what you have chosen to define "racisim" to be has little to do with how "racism" is defined in the real world. I got caught up on the rather unexpected definition. In the real world, racism is "discrimination based on race," within which you can consider the very specific subset of cases where the most effective distinguishing characteristic happens to be a color of skin. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Dec 27 '15 at 17:33
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Perhaps "skinism" would be a better term for what you have denoted as "racisim?" $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Dec 27 '15 at 17:35
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon "Colourism" is the real world concept that, usually, lighter skins are better than darker ones. "Racism" doesn't have to be skin-colour based, e.g. Roma or traveller in European countries, both sides are 'white' but see as a different race. "Speciesism" is to discriminate between different sentient races, for example by eating dolphins or octopuses, or hunting orc(a)s. $\endgroup$ – Pete Kirkham Jun 13 '18 at 15:02

Racism is a symptom of tribalism. People tend to want to band together into groups of similar individuals to collectively protect their interests. While now, in the USA, racism is the big divider, a century ago the Anglo-Saxons hated the Germans and the Italians and the Irish. Since all of them are now considered "white" peoples, modern-day racist Anglo-Saxons ignore them, because they are part of the tribe.

To answer your question, simply make it so that color is not indicative of geographical location. If a white elf comes from a land that also contains black elves and brown elves and has friends and family members who are black and brown, they likely will not associate skin color with tribal belonging. However, if elves have to compete with dwarves for food or land or resources, shapism will quickly take root and turn violent. And once such a conflict has started, the prejudices will take root and affect cities and countries outside of the struggle as the toxic ideas spread through trade and gossip.

  • $\begingroup$ Another good example is the Rwandan Genocide where Hutus mass murder the Tutsis. These ethnic groups were pretty much made up by the Europeans as a way to divide and conquer. Most of the time people couldn't tell the difference between the groups, but they hated each other nevertheless. I'm oversimplifying the situation, of course, for the sake of the example. $\endgroup$ – Lupino Oct 19 '18 at 11:12
  • $\begingroup$ A significant driver of the anti-German, anti-Irish and anti-Italian sentiment in pre-20th Century USA was hatred of Catholicism. rationalwiki.org/wiki/Anti-Catholicism $\endgroup$ – Tangurena Jan 25 at 23:11

Color blindness, sir. Or a society that lives in near-dark levels of light, where people/beings don't see many details, which means that a distinguished shape is a significant marker of race/affiliation (like height or breadth).

BTW, we already have some shape "discrimination" in our society. Height, fatness/skinniness, details of face etc. make for lots of "shapism" biases. I dare say that if we had fat short dwarves and tall skinny elves they'd be at each other's throats for the sake of shapism alone.


There exists an Arabic proverb which goes something like, "I, against my brothers. I and my brothers against my cousins. I and my brothers and my cousins against the world."

In a sufficiently contentious world, members of the same species would cooperate despite skin color differences, as shape would be seen as more important than color.

Of course, if one species became dominant, so that the other species were no longer seen as a threat, the instinct for drawing lines and excluding "the others" would probably cause racism to rear its ugly head.


In the Shadowrun setting this is a briefly touched on topic. The Magic returns to the world, and a number of humans are changed into fantasy races (orks, trolls, dwarves, elves) while still retaining their skin-color and ethnic race traits. I'm not too familiar with the earlier Shadowrun lore, but in the recent PC releases of Shadowrun Returns and Dragonfall, ethnic racism is almost nonexistent since fantasy race has more real world impact. If anything, that setting has replaced ethnic racism with fantasy racism.

That's one interpretation of the question you're asking, but then it has some differences since Shadowrun is a future setting rather than a medieval setting. Still, a lot of the same conclusions can be drawn in either scenario.

To sum up my conclusion for why fantasy racism would be more common than ethnic racism: the difference between elves and dwarves is so much more than, for example, between Asians and Black people, that ethnic race wouldn't be seen as enough of a big deal to get angry about. A Black elf and a Black dwarf would have less in common than an Asian dwarf and a Black dwarf.

In the real world, it's generally accepted that ethnicity doesn't have very much real world impact on a person on a biological level, rather it's more of a factor for social impact.

In a Tolkien-inspired fantasy setting though; fantasy race makes a huge biological difference to an individual. Elves live longer, dwarves are stronger, humans reproduce more quickly, orks are more aggressive.


You can rig your species' genetics so that close relatives can have different colors. For example, a litter of kittens can contain red, black, and calico members. It's really hard for a sentient black cat to believe in black supremacy when his mom is a calico and his son is red.

(Quick science: gene on X chromosome controls red/black. Black male gets black X from mom. Red male gets red X from mom. Red female is rare because the red gene is less common and she needed to get it from mom and dad. Calico gets red X from one parent and black X from her other parent; male calico only happens when there is some deviation from genetic simplicity. All other cat colors involve other genes that modify the basic red/black colors.)


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.